Heading into the final weekend of a three-week road trip that has proved rough and tumble so far, the UCSB women’s soccer team is looking to start off the Big West conference season with a pair of wins. The #23 Gauchos (7-4-0) have dropped three spots in the NSCAA/adidas Senior College Rankings after losing two of their last three matches, all of which were decided by one goal.

This weekend, UCSB visits UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton, who are both second-to-last in the Big West standings. Santa Barbara currently sits tied in second place in the Big West with Long Beach State, just a few percentage points behind UC Davis. Of course, the current standings are based nonconference results, and things will change as soon as conference games are played.

Tonight, the Gauchos will face the Highlanders (5-5-1), who look better on paper than their record would imply. Riverside is averaging just under two goals a game off 12.9 percent shooting, while holding opponents to just 1.32 off 7.2 percent shooting. Looking at their game results, these numbers are clearly inflated by a 5-0 and a pair of 4-0 wins earlier in the year against weak opponents.

Santa Barbara has a similar stat line to UCR, averaging 1.88 goals per game, but the Gaucho defense has held opponents to only 0.99 goals per game off a dismal 9.5 average shots. Also, UCSB has been far more successful in games decided by two goals or less, going 5-4 in tight games versus Riverside’s 2-4-1 mark.

The Gaucho attack, coming off an injury-marred previous season, has been revitalized with a Vegas-sized buffet of scoring talent. Led by junior forward Genelle Ives’ four goals, Santa Barbara has had 11 different players find the back of the net this season, including three who have notched three: sophomores forward Kylie McDonald and midfielders Kailyn Kugler and Jacqui Simon.

Sunday, UCSB will cruise to Fullerton to take on the Titans. CSUF is sitting at .500 right now, and they have played exactly like a .500 team so far. Their stats are dead even with their opponents, but Fullerton has lost four of their last six. However, with a 3-2 loss in their last game and a Friday match-up against bottom shelf Cal Poly, the Titans should have a good chance of bringing some momentum into Sunday’s match.

With the Gauchos needing to stay at the top of the standings to make a postseason run, a pair of wins against the lesser Big West teams is crucial. Kickoff for Friday’s match is slated for 7 p.m. in Riverside.